The 10 Worst Mistakes in Direct Mail
by Jeffrey Dobkin
I made all these mistakes, so… you don’t have to! Yes, I made plenty more, too. You can learn from my mistakes – and increase your own chances of success. So follow these few simple guidelines of exactly what not to do. Don’t worry, you’ll find lots of other mistakes to make on your own, but at least you won’t have to make these.
1. Not knowing your audience. All writing should be to a specific targeted group that you research until you know it intimately. Aim for your readers’ personal hot spots, in a writing style and level they are comfortable with. Learn how the group feels, acts, what your audience likes or hates. Then, craft your writing in style and content specifically to your readership.
2. Mailing to the wrong list. This is probably the most common – and most fatal – error made in mailings. Spend as much time on researching your list as you do on the creative aspects of writing and layout, and on the research about your products, pricing, and offer. Unless the people on your mailing list have a desire or need for your product (or service), they’re going to be tough to convince, and probably impossible to sell. Offering Buick mufflers to Chevy owners just won’t work, no matter how great the copy or the price.
3. Not writing to clear objectives. Nothing muddies good writing like not having a specific goal. Make sure you know where you’re going with each piece you write, then stay focused. Write your objective first, in the upper right-hand corner of your page, and refer to it often. Stay on target. My objectives are usually to have people call, write, or send in the business reply card. 99% of the time I offer readers a free brochure or booklet if they call, so we can send a more qualified prospect a harder-hitting package.
4. Price before offer. “Only $49.95!” No matter what you’re selling, a price has no meaning until readers know what they’re getting. Make sure you tell them about your product first. If your number one sales point is your product’s low price, you may introduce the price early on in the same sentence.
5. Price before benefits. “Just $89.95!” may sound like a great price to you for a stereo, but if you present it first – before showing exactly how great the radio is – most of your readers will go right past your ad, or toss your brochure out before they even see your product or offer. You need to tell readers what makes your price so great – in terms of benefits to the reader.
6. Wrong price point. There are thousands of theories on how to price your product correctly. Funny, each formula gives you a different answer. My formula is correct, and it works with every product, every time: let the market set the price. You do this by testing each price point you feel will work, and seeing which one brings in not only the most orders, but the most overall profit. That’s your price; simple, isn’t it? This is the only way I know of to set the correct price for maximum profit in direct marketing. The only way.
7. Inadequate testing. There’s no reason to lose big money in direct mail. Ever. Everything is testable, and you should test small mailings until one is clearly a winner. Then ramp up slowly: next time mail to a slightly larger test group. If that works, test mail still larger mailings. Until you know you’re absolutely going to be profitable, just stick with smaller test mailings. So you’ll never lose big money. How will you know you will be successful? As long as you mail the same package to the exact same list, your results should be the same.
8. Wrong objective to your marketing piece. Asking for the sale instead of selling the call can be a fatal mistake. The objective of a small or classified ad for any product over ten dollars is to get the prospect to call or write in. Unless you’re sending a long, hard-selling direct mail piece (or have a full-page direct selling ad) your objective again should be to make the reader call for additional information or your free informational booklet. Generally, you do not ask for the sale in an ad or short letter, you ask for a call. Offer the product, show the benefits, and sell the call hard – that is the secret of success in direct marketing.
9. Wrong headline. The headline is the single most important element of your ad. Solely on the basis of this one line, your reader makes the decision to continue – or not continue – to read. Use the Jeff Dobkin 100 to 1 Rule to create both the headline of your ad or press release and the teaser line on your envelope: Write 100 headlines, then pick the best one. No, no TV on while you’re doing this. Take several days for this task. If you can figure out a quicker and better way, please let me know.
10. Not telling your readers exactly what you want them to do. You should tell your readers several times exactly what you want them to do. Be specific. Let readers know exactly what action you want them to take; tell them, and tell them again. I wrote a sales letter for a printer and actually asked a dozen times for readers to call! Excessive? After mailing it, the printer had to hire two more people to answer the phones. If I can smoothly weave “please call” into the copy this many times, you can ask for the call at least three or four times without being obnoxious. To see how I did this, get a free copy of this letter – drop me a SASE.
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